Former 1st Lt. Ken Donihue of Hampshire House apartments in Port Charlotte arrived in Vietnam a few weeks after the “Tet Offensive.” He flew into the country in March of 1968, as a member of Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 327th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division—”The Screaming Eagles.”
“The 101st was based at ‘Camp Eagle’ in I-Corps near the A-shau Valley. The valley was controlled by the enemy during the war. It was a deadly battleground both sides fought over.
When he arrived in country in ’68, Donihue was with the 101st Airborne that was launching air mobile assaults into the mountains and jungle-covered A-shau Valley. It was battling a persistent and well-equipped enemy. The valley was the terminus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail—the major route by which NVA smuggled military supplies into South Vietnam during the war.
“We had intensive operations against the enemy in the A-shau Valley, I’ll put it that way.”
I asked Donihue to tell me more about his front line activities in the A-shau Valley.
“That was a long time ago and it’s all kinda fuzzy,” he replied. “It’s hard to recall all of that stuff.”
Then he began talking. He talked about his time as a platoon leader when he fought in the jungles of Vietnam.
“We were on patrol and we came across an enemy tunnel,” Donihue said. “I sent a young soldier down in the tunnel with a .45 pistol and a flashlight to search for NVA and VC.
“We had a rope tied around our man so we could pull him out if he got in trouble. While searching the tunnel the rope went limp and we couldn’t pull him out.
“I sent him down in the tunnel, so I figured it was up to me to get him out,” Donihue recalled almost 60 years later. “When I got down there he was unconscious. I got him turned around and they pulled him out and revived him.
“I could see some activity at the end of the tunnel. So I emptied my .45 pistol on whatever it was. I assumed I killed whoever was at the other end of the tunnel,” he said.
“What I think happened to the man I sent down in the tunnel was that he blacked out from lack of oxygen. Before he went down we dropped a couple of hand-grenades down the opening and that might have suck all the air out of the passageway.
“Long story short: I received a soldier’s lifesaving medal for getting my man out of the tunnel alive.”
“On another occasion, things were very confused. We had just survived a small firefight with the enemy and we had to keep moving.
“My platoon was walking down a narrow trail through the jungle of the A-shau when I got a radio message from my point-man up in front.
“You better come up here. We’ve got a problem,” he told me.
“When I reached my point-man there was a huge, I mean huge, snake coiled up in the middle of the path where my men were walking. That snake must have weighed 200 pounds or more.
“We decided not to disturb him. No one in my patrol was brave enough to just step over him. We took out our machetes and cut a path around him through the jungle and left him right where he was.
“As far as I know that snake is still right there on the path in the A-shau Valley where we left it.”
“I had a medic in my platoon. His name was Doc Tommley. He wouldn’t carry a firearm.
“The doc was married. Before he joined the service and was sent to Vietnam he had apparently studied for the ministry.
“Anyway, our mail was flown in on a chopper this one day. The doc got a letter from his wife. She included a picture of herself in a négligeé perched on a bed. She was a very attractive lady and the picture was tastefully shot.
“I was sitting close-by reading my mail when the doc walked up to me and dropped the picture of his wife in my lap. Then he said, ‘Can you get me a rifle to carry. I want to make it home to my wife.’
“Before the doc left Vietnam he killed at least one enemy soldier with his .45 and maybe two,” Donihue said.
“I remember we found this cache of enemy weapons and we wanted to fly them out by helicopter but we had no landing zone. I took 40 pounds of C-4 plastic explosives and cleared a spot for the helicopter to land.
“In doing so I had to blow down this beautiful mahogany tree. I turned it into toothpicks so we could bring in the helicopter and fly the enemy weapons out.
“My biggest accomplishment during my first tour in Vietnam: I only lost one man to the enemy. He was a point man. I still have his picture in one of my scrapbooks.
In 1971 he made a second tour to Vietnam. This time he served in headquarters company in a unit stationed south of Saigon in the Delta area. By this time Donihue was a captain.
After 11 years of military service he decided to try civilian life. He and his late wife moved to Punta Gorda where they bought a lot and built a house in Punta Gorda Isles in 1974. He began working as the circulation manager for the Punta Gorda Herald that was later acquired by the Sun. After that he got a real estate license and worked for a number of years selling locally until he retired.
Name: Kenneth Walter Donihue
D.O.B: 16 Oct. 1938
Hometown: Hillsdale County, Mich.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Unit: Alpah Company, 2nf Battalion, 327th Regiment, 101st Airbone Division
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal W/5 Campaign Stars, Vietnam Campaign Medal W/V 60, Bronze Star W/V (2 OLC), Air Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Senior Parahutist Badge, Ranger Tab, Pathfinder Badge, Soldiers Lifesaving Medal.
Battles/Campaigns: Battle of A-Shau Valley
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017 and is republished with permission.
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